Wild Turkey’s landing of Matthew McConaughey as creative director for a new marketing campaign is one of the shrewdest moves witnessed in a long time by a bourbon distiller. Where its liquor industry peers have recruited sex symbols as brand spokespersons or stuck with long-maintained stories steeped in dubious heritage, Wild Turkey has taken an unconventional tack by tapping a recognizable and approachable icon to bridge the gap between its good-ole-boy master distillers, pop culture and the multiage bourbon drinking populous.
Sure, McConaughey has graced magazine covers in designer clothing, but a quick Google Images search produces hundreds pictures of him dressed quite casually. In a 2-minute short film released by Wild Turkey and produced by McConaughey, he’s wearing a heavy flannel shirt, jeans and boots, which could be a carefully crafted image play or the real thing. It appears that he, like “Raising Arizona’s” H.I. McDunnough, won’t posture himself as a “three-piece suit type” in this new role.
That’s good because nothing about Wild Turkey could be confused with stiff shirts. Jimmy Russell and Eddie Russell, its best known faces, co-master distillers and father and son, are small town folk from Lawrenceburg, Ky. They might be the most down-home, friendly people in the bourbon business. I have never heard a bad word said about them, and a lengthy interview I had with them last year confirmed their kindness.
They are the perfect fit for a bourbon brand known by some as the Kickin’ Chicken. But as Southern gentlemen getting on in years, the brand’s marketing team may have started wondering whether the growing number of young bourbon drinkers would identify with such paternal figures. So in comes McConaughey, a 46-year old whose rugged good looks, smoky voice and cool carriage is loved by movie fans of all ages. As demonstrated in the short film, his interest in the Wild Turkey brand seems genuine (OK, at least convincing since he is an actor after all), and working as the creative director on the project, he appears to want deep involvement. Again, he’s convincing for sure, but that’s his job. Watch the short flick if you haven’t already, and see if it doesn’t spur your interest in Wild Turkey—if only to see what’s up McConaughey’s sleeve.
At the very least, I really like Wild Turkey’s 101 proof base bourbon and believe it’s an underappreciated product. And if McConaughey can take this base whiskey and help it gain the notoriety it deserves—I like it better than the far-more recognized Jack Daniel’s—prepare to see the Turkey fly to impressive heights.